From Student to Mayor to Met Council Chair: Nora Slawik
Nora Slawik has had a long career in public service, even before Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz appointed her to lead the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning agency for the Twin Cities metro area.
Slawik, who earned her Master of Public Affairs from the Humphrey School in 2007, served seven terms in the Minnesota House and most recently was the mayor of Maplewood from 2014 through 2018. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at the School, teaching a course on early childhood and public policy from 2004-2014.
Slawik has held leadership roles on various transportation projects over the years and served on the Met Council’s advisory board. She says one of her top priorities as head of the agency is to strengthen partnerships with local communities and business leaders.
We talked with Slawik recently about taking on this new leadership role.
What excites you most about your new position at the Metropolitan Council?
The opportunity to be involved in one of the biggest expansions of transit service in the region’s history. Our plan to build out a new bus rapid transit line each year for the next decade and enhance regular route bus service will connect a half million more people to a 30-minute transit commute to their jobs.
How are you approaching the job?
I’m approaching this job both as a leader and a learner; you can’t do it any other way. The Legislature created the Metropolitan Council to take on big issues that cross city limits and county lines: transit, wastewater treatment, housing, regional planning. That work has a regional scope, but things only work well when you have local buy-in on the community level. I have to learn from the people in our region in order to run an organization that makes long-term plans.
What sparked your passion for public service?
I’m a futurist and an optimist. Our region has a rich past, but look at the exciting ways things are changing. We’re going to have another 700,000 people living here in 20 years. But our population won’t just be bigger, it will be more diverse, with more people of color and even more people moving here from across the nation and the world. New voices and new ideas – it’s very exciting.
How did being a mayor prepare you for being chair of the Met Council?
Governor Walz specifically wanted a mayor to be the chair of the Met Council, and all three finalists were mayors. As mayor of Maplewood, I was involved in leadership positions in the Gold Line and Rush Line Bus Rapid Transit projects, the Transportation Advisory Board of the Met Council, the Maplewood 2040 Comprehensive Plan, and on affordable housing projects using Livable Communities funds.
What issue is most pressing for the Met Council and why?
Transportation funding. Our potential is unlimited, but if we don’t invest in the critical infrastructure to keep moving people and products around the region it will stunt our ability to thrive.
How did your time at the Humphrey School prepare you for leadership?
Robust discussions with the outstanding Humphrey faculty, innovative courses, and networking with mid-career colleagues helped me learn different paradigms of leadership and encourage risk taking to try new ideas.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in public policy and public service?
Learn, listen, build relationships, and explore your career passions. I spoke at the Humphrey School's MPA Mid-Winter Soiree earlier this year, and on my way out someone told me that a student declared in 10 years they wanted to work for the governor and be part of the cabinet just like me. My advice is to follow your passions, work hard and enjoy the journey.
In addition to Slawik, Governor Walz chose three other people with close ties to the Humphrey School to serve in his cabinet.